It’s not everyday you get the privilege of chatting with the Co-Creator & Executive Producer (Jed Whedon) and Executive Producer (Jeff Bell) of the hit TV series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but that’s exactly what I got to do last month while I was on the press junket trip to LA for the Avengers: Age of Ultron and visited the S.H.I.E.L.D. set. Talk about an exciting day for this Marvel FanGirl. Read on to learn what Jed and Jeff had to say about the S.H.I.E.L.D. writing schedule, cameos, running in front of trains, and writing within the framework of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
We have the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the TV shows. When you’re planning a season, are you limited to what you can and can’t do?
JED: We definitely have free reign but it does limit us in that we can’t kill Captain America, like we plan to each week. No, you know, obviously there are guidelines. They have these huge temples and we sort of move between them, and there are things that are off limit to us for sure because they have either big plans for them or have already shot stuff that’s gonna use them. But in terms, we don’t feel limited by it. It’s sort of a fun puzzle for us, and we get big toys to play with because of it. So it’s sort of a privilege to live in that Universe, and the fact that when something happens on our show it is canon. It is exists and the fact that we have to be respectful to that is also, it also means that if we do something it is canon. But yeah it’s more of a puzzle for us and we get the privilege of seeing what’s coming down the pipeline and sort of catering our stories to move between it. I think we have more fun with it.
JEFF: The only challenge really was when we first launched we knew that Hydra was the big bad guy in Captain America 2 and there was one word we were not allowed to say on S.H.I.E.L.D. We called it the “H word,” and so we knew that was coming, and we knew we were building to that and we knew we were gonna reveal Ward that way and we knew it was gonna blow apart the team but it might have been helpful to have said the “H word” earlier for big comic fans. They’re going who are these bad guys.
If we said, “Well he works for Hydra, he works for Hydra, she’s with Hydra,” people would have been “Oh, they’re doing Hydra, that’s cool.” But we couldn’t say that. That was really the only limit, but the upside was it just exploded in our show and having Ward turn like that and letting Brett do that and become that, that was awesome. It really depends on each movie. Like Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t have much for us to tie in with.
JED: And you can consider it a limitation to have a film that literally destroys the organization that your show is named after.
JEFF: Cause when we first wrote it, it’s like Episode 17, do we still exist? Agents of hmm???
JED: We took it and saw it as an opportunity, and I think that working around that, and finding a way to make that our show came up with some of the best story that we had. It generated things that we never would have thought of and put us in a tight corner that we had to ride our way out of.
Aside from just the story how has it affected your approach? With Season One people didn’t really know what to expect. By Season Two you got people following. It’s just as essential to see the TV series as it is the movies.
JEFF (to JED): I like her.
JED: I'm gonna put that on a t-shirt.
Do you do Season Two different than the way you did Season One?
JED: I think that the big advantage we have now is that people know the characters. A huge disadvantage for us was that they were original characters, which most Marvel properties launch with something that you are familiar with.
JEFF:… We had Coulson but no one else.
JED: Right. That was new for all of Marvel and new for the Marvel fans, so I think that initially people reacted to that. They were saying, “Okay, well I'm not seeing things I know of, and this has a big Marvel flip at the top of it.” But as time goes on and you get to know the characters, you start to become familiar with them and Skye becoming who she became was more rewarding because you spend a year with her getting to know her and it wasn’t like the first episode, here’s this character you’ve heard of. You had to spend some time with them, but I think there was a little barrier to entry because these were new names, new faces.
JEFF: And from our perspective though, part of that was we’re an ABC network show. We’re not a sci-fi show. Our mandate was not just to do a show for hardcore Marvel fans. Our show was to try to get as many people in as possible and so it was an opportunity for a lot of people to come in, characters they didn’t know and so if you’re not a big Marvel fan you don’t know that Skye or Ward were not part of that canon, but for the diehards, they’re like, “Well if Mike Peterson isn’t Luke Cage we don’t like him.” And then we go, “Oh, but we’re building him to Deathlok and you have to be patient to do that because we’re doing 22 episodes,” and they were like, ”Oh, that’s cool.”
JED: So our approach hasn’t really changed. It’s just been easier. You don’t have to spend the time. Initially, you have to spend time introducing the characters and now you can just throw them into trouble. Everyone goes, “Oh, no!” And they’re making their way into comics. FitzSimmons are now in the comics, which to us is so fun, and it starts to just weave together and who knows where stuff started and where it ends.
JEFF: And you saw an example but what’s happened with Ward we think Ward has become you need a good act out, do something with Ward.
JED: Ward walks in. Yah.
JEFF: Ward walks in. It’s like, “Oh, no this is—he’s gonna kill somebody or kiss them. I don’t know and I hope he does both. It’s weird. Is it just me, is it just me?”
Are there any cameos we could expect coming down the pike?
JEFF: How would you define cameo like Stan Lee?
I mean Stan Lee would be great, but I was thinking of like Avengers?
JED: Well that falls in the category of questions we can’t answer. That is always a possibility. It would be cool if that happens.
If you had a dream, who would you like to see?
JEFF: All of them. There’s just one episode. They’re all in it.
JED: We don’t really have favorites in that department. There’s a lot. There’s fun to be had with all of them.
On the writing schedule for the show
JEFF: We start June first and the writers room broke today and then Jed and Marissa and I will be here until the second week of May finishing the episodes, and then for 2 weeks we go crazy and sleep and then we come back June first should they say hey, let’s do this again. It’s 22. It’s stupid.
JED: We’re trying to negotiate that down.
JEFF: It’s too many.
JED: Let’s do like 20, and by that I mean 16.
JEFF: No, it’s, it’s funny because we talk about internally like “God, Games of Thrones was great. They did 10 episodes.” We’re like, “10 episodes?” We’re just like, “Oh, we got 12 to go. We’re already tired.”
JED: We start on June first, and we start prepping 6 weeks later; that’s how much lead time we have so, that buffer—
JEFF: There’s a train track. They say go and you start running down the train track and 6 weeks later they let a train behind you, all this and you try to stay ahead of that train until, until next week and you’re trying not to get run over by the train.
JED: Also, you can plan, you can generate all the story you want, but there’s always a bump in the road. You know, schedules. There’s a lot of actors. There’s rain. There’s things that you can’t anticipate that when those bumps in the road come you just have to…
JEFF: Evidently every show on TV has a Patton Oswald at least twice a week. Have you noticed this? And so us trying to get a Canning on this show it’s like getting Elijah. You set a chair, you hope he shows up and that’s it.
JED: We’re like we’ll come to you with a camera. Just tell us where you are.
You guys have been showing a lot of back stories. Do you have a favorite?
JED: Well we’re happy with “Cavalry.”
JEFF: Did you see the Cavalry story? Did you like it? Was that a good answer to the question of what happened and all that?
JED: We’ve been waiting to tell that story for a while.
JEFF: Cause we knew last year, but part of it was when do you tell that story and how much of who she is and we wanna earn that story. We didn’t wanna wait too long.
JED: We kept actually sort of slotting it in as this is a nice place but then as we were introducing the new world that Skye enters we started sort of falling in there and we were like oh, that’s actually…
JEFF: Honestly, one of my favorite moments of the season is when you’re watching. Okay, so this is an Inhuman story and then there’s this May flashback story and when you realize no, this one thing happened here and she says it was her daughter and the girl steps in. I still get chills, but I love that moment for us and the fact that those two stories, which I think hopefully felt separate, came together in a surprising way.
JED: Yeah, you know …
JEFF: Good job.
JED: You too. It’s fun to read people saying, “When are we gonna hear this story?” We have it in our back pocket going, “That’s a good question, actually.”
JEFF: Well, the other thing we did was at the end of 16 we go we’re gonna get Ward and he shows up in 17, and it’s like, “How about a flashback story instead?” But then it happens here as you can see there’s more of that. So structuring 22 and how do you keep it interesting so it doesn’t feel like the same thing every week, we started with White Hall and then Dad showed up. It’s fun to try and keep all those different threads alive over the course of 22.
JED: Our favorite thing to say right now as the writers are going home and we’re shooting our last episodes this is our 44th episode of S.H.I.E.L.D., which anytime you say it to anybody who works on a show they go, “Oh, whoa, that’s right, that’s the math.”
JEFF: Then you cast them and they’re like, “This is our 493rd episode.” That’s true. You guys have been doing it longer than us.
JED: And then you see an ad for the final four episodes of Mad Men will blow your mind.
JEFF: Which takes you the toll up to 17.
JEFF: Good, they’re all good. We’re not bitter at all, really not. Not bitter.
Watch Tonight's Episode “S.O.S.”
MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.—“S.O.S.,” Part One and Part Two”—S.H.I.E.L.D. puts everything on the line to survive a war that blurs the line between friend and foe. Coulson and his team will be forced to make shocking sacrifices that will leave their relationships and their world changed forever, on the two-hour season finale of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” TUESDAY, MAY 12 (9:00–11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Mitchell Haaseth) IAIN DE CAESTECKER, CLARK GREGG, ELIZABETH HENSTRIDGE
Avengers: Age of Ultron—New Trailer
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is now playing in theatres everywhere!
I've been invited to LA courtesy of Disney for a media event. All opinions are my own.